Dating With a Disability (a Disability Awareness Month post)
Starting off the last week of Disability Awareness Month, I give you a glimpse into what dating with a disability looks like... The picture below, taken 8 years ago, shows Irena and I in a lazy river, with her youngest son floating nearby. She had taken her kids to the Abe Martin Lodge for the weekend, I drove down to spend a day with them.
While the crowded indoor water park was not really "accessible", I found a way to make it work, and Irena gave me both motivation and support to make it happen. We were not engaged yet, but a year and a half later, her children would become my step-children. Over the years, we've grown used to the odd stares and the uncomfortable questions. Sometimes these questions are inappropriate, but I would rather they be asked than allow misperceptions and poorly informed assumptions to exist. People have even asked Irena why she would choose to be with a person with my obviously complex challenges. (That's putting it mildly).
Dating with a disability means taking risks to engage with the people that matter to you and allowing them to support you in your vulnerability. It means showing your scars, be they physical, emotional, or cognitive and allowing others, even the general public around you, to see the parts of you that you might rather hide. It means participating in the things you want to do but would otherwise tell yourself you can't do or feel it's not worth the effort to try because of your disability; but to grow a romantic relationship you have to be present in your beloved's life even when things aren't necessarily designed to be "accessible". Romantic relationships are a vital part of the human experience and people with disabilities are human.
Disability Awareness is not just about understanding that people with disabilities need accessible parking spaces, curb cuts, audible crosswalk signals, wheelchair accessible bathroom stalls, ASL interpreters, sensory rooms, weighted blankets, etc. It's about recognizing that people with disabilities are a vital part of our society, with a right to enjoy all aspects of life including love and intimacy, and in the year 2023 our society should be designed to include us. It's about understanding that people with disabilities are also struggling with the same insecurities that you are, just magnified by additional obstacles, restrictions, frustration, and pain. Disability Awareness is about actively creating truly accessible communities that are safe spaces for a diverse people to share their scars and vulnerabilities without fear or obstacle to inclusion in all aspects of life, with equity in their independent choice and activities, which promotes a true sense of belonging in our day to day lives...which ultimately promotes positive emotional and physical health. Disability Awareness is also about working to develop a society in which people with disabilities do not feel like they have to expose their scars and risk additional injury and insult to participate in daily life with their loved ones, by continually improving our communal accessibility and understanding. Ultimately, it's about seeing people with disabilities not as individuals with unfortunate and inconvenient medical issues to fix or accommodate, but as a people with a shared cultural history that creates the largest continually growing minority in the world and the only minority that crosses all other demographics.
Disability Awareness Month is about recognizing that Disability Inclusion and advocacy for Disability Rights must be an ongoing daily global effort, regardless of what month it is. As we move out of Disability Awareness Month, if you would like to learn more and develop an ongoing Accessible DEIB program for your organization or associations, or if you know of a business or organization who needs this focus, feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com.
Photo Description: A smiling bearded man in his 30's with brownish-red hair and bi-lateral above knee amputations (both legs missing from above the knees and down), shirtless and wearing red swim shorts, floats on his back in a lazy river. He is supported by a beautiful brunette woman who floats behind him. She is smiling as he rests his head on her right shoulder with his face turned to his left toward her. There are several noodle floats in pink, green, blue, and purple colors floating around the happy couple. A young boy with short spikey blonde hair floats nearby watching them as the current carries him further down the river towards other people moving along ahead of him. The lazy river and surrounding indoor water park is crowded with other people all around in the water and on the concrete pool deck engaged in their own activities. A wrought iron fence separates the lazy river from a water basketball court with overhead buckets of water and flowing sprinklers.